Meeting the needs of every child
CASTLE ROCK – Traditionally in education, the services provided to schools were compartmentalized, with different teams taking care of the educational, psychological and special needs of students. Douglas County School District is taking a different approach, looking for ways to provide layered, differentiated support that meets all the needs of every child.
“It is a huge shift from being an adult focused organization and focusing on adult needs, which might mean to compartmentalize my work. Instead, it is about being student-focused, which means forcing ourselves to think a little differently about the services we provide, who we provide them to and what type of results we are hoping to achieve,” explained Chief Student Advocacy Officer Dr. Jason Germain.
“It requires great leadership in the district to achieve what we are trying to achieve, because it is much easier for people to compartmentalize their work and say, ‘oh, I only do this.’” Germain added.
He says the role of each DCSD employee is supporting students, just in different capacities. As they’ve worked to build the new Personalized Learning department they’ve gone to great lengths to break through adult-centered constructs to better serve children.
“Truly, personalizing learning for students means that we cross all those boundaries to provide students what they need,”
With this in mind, every part of his department from Special Education to Student Wellness to Gifted and Talented to Health Services is now implementing a similar multi-layered support structure.
“We start with a universal level of services. Those are services afforded to all students in the building. It could be school wide prevention efforts or any number of different things,” Germain explained. “The next level of support is more targeted services, which could be based on student data that there is a need for a school counselor or school psychologist around a targeted group of students.”
An example of a targeted effort might include a multi-week support group for students with a specific reading difficulty, a school-related phobia, or perhaps a grief group, supporting students after a death.
“Hopefully they come out knowing, ‘when I start feeling anxious, I need to start deep breathing or I need to think about the things I’m good at.’” explained Dr. Colette Hohnbaum, the District’s coordinator of Intervention and Support.
“Then we have our more intensive interventions,” added Germain. “These are for kids that may be experiencing more significant mental illness, but also for students who may be engaging in behavior that warrants a more significant response,” Germain said.
If a student threatens himself or herself or another student, staff members conduct a threat or self threat assessment.
“We have specific safety protocols and plans in place,” Germain explained. “We assess the validity of that threat and then determine a plan to assure student safety,” Germain explained.
It is important to note that the entire goal of the system is for students to be supported at the least restrictive level possible.
“When a student needs intensive help, there is help for them,” Hohnbaum said.
“Kids can bump up to the level they need, but the service we are providing returns them to a lower level of support in our system,” Germain added.
The Personalized Learning team encourages parents to speak up if they think their child may have an issue. Sometimes it can be hard to tell exactly whether the problem is educational or physiological in nature, so it is best to speak to a teacher or your school principal and they can bring in the appropriate resources to support your child.